The body commonly gets nitrogen from amino acids that make up protein. Nitrogen-rich foods include meat such as beef, pork and poultry and many fruits and vegetables.
Nitrogen is important to your health as it is a critical component of proteins that form muscles and other tissues and nucleic acid including DNA and RNA, advises The Marine Biological Laboratory. Your body cannot store amino acids for later use, so it is important to consume protein in your diet daily to remain healthy, advises the University of Arizona Biology Project.
Foods that are high in nitrogen include high-protein and high-purine foods like meat, seafood and organ meat. High-nitrogen plant foods include leafy greens, tofu, beans, nuts and seeds.
Animal Sources of Nitrogen
Meat — especially lean meat — is primarily protein, which is made up of amino acids containing nitrogen, advises the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Opt for lean meats for a healthy diet, such as:
- Poultry, including turkey and chicken
- Lean beef cuts such as tenderloin and top sirloin
- Lean pork
While fattier cuts of meat are also a good source of protein, the higher fat content can be detrimental to a healthy diet. Eggs and low-fat milk are also an excellent source of protein and nitrogen.
Nitrogen is also found in a compound called purines. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, high-purine animal foods include:
- High-fat meats, including red meat
- Wild game, including veal
- Some seafood, including sardines, trout and scallops
- Organ meat, including kidney and liver
Most people can eat high-purine foods without any negative effects. However, when purines are digested, your body produces uric acid, which can cause kidney stones and gout in some individuals.
While nitrogen in your diet is mainly consumed through protein, you may also consume nitrogen in the form of nitrates. For example, many processed foods and meats contain nitrate, which is used as a preservative.
In most cases, the level of exposure to nitrates from food is not enough to cause negative health effects, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, overexposure may cause symptoms such as:
- Abdominal cramps and vomiting
- Decreased blood pressure
- Elevated heart rate
It may also cause certain types of cancer.
Read more: The Harmful Effect of Sodium Nitrite in Food
Nitrogen-Rich Vegetables and Fruits
Some plant foods are also high in nitrogen and protein. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some examples include:
- Tofu and soy-based proteins
- Beans, including lentils, garbanzo, black, pinto and kidney beans
- Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts
- Seeds, including sesame seeds
- Peanut butter
Nitrate-rich vegetables include leafy greens like spinach, lettuce and beetroot. Most of the nitrate you consume comes from these vegetables, advises the CDC. These foods are the source of the majority of the nitrate you consume in your diet.
Other vegetables with high nitrate levels include celery, parsley, leeks, fennel and endive, notes the CDC. Some vegetables are not good sources of nitrates and have low levels, including broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, eggplant, onions, garlic and pumpkin.
Foods high in nitrates, including vegetables, may also be contaminated with nitrate-based fertilizers, notes a study in the January 2018 issue of Biomedical Chromatography. Avoid consuming pesticide residue by properly preparing the vegetables with methods such as washing, blanching, cooking and peeling.
- The Marine Biological Laboratory: "Primer on Nitrogen"
- Biomedical Chromatography: "Analytical Approach, Dissipation Pattern and Risk Assessment of Pesticide Residue in Green Leafy Vegetables: A Comprehensive Review."
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Toxic Substances Portal - Nitrate and Nitrite"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Protein in Diet"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Nitrate/Nitrite Toxicity"
- University of Arizona Biology Project: "The Chemistry of Amino Acids"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Low-Purine Diet"